Part III: The Divinity of Messiah in the Old Testament and in Jewish Writings
The Angel of the Lord
The divinity of Messiah was still veiled in the Old Testament. Yet we do find several occurrences where God appears either in the form of a man or angel, usually called "the Angel of the Lord."
In Genesis 16:7, the Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar and speaks with her; yet in verse 13 the text tells us that this was "the Lord who spoke to her."
In Genesis 18:1-2, the Lord appears to Abraham in the form of 3 men. Notice the very unusual dialogue of this whole chapter between Abraham and God/the three men. At times it seems like Abraham is speaking to the Lord (in the singular), and at times to the three men (in the plural) (the singular/plural is partly lost in the English translation):
In verse 3, Abraham calls his interlocutor "My Lord" (אֲדונָי, Adonai) and speaks in the singular. He then switches to the plural in verses 4-9 ("wash your feet," "they ate," "they said..."). Then, in verses 10-15, it is again God who speaks in the singular ("He said," "I will return"). In verse 16, "the men rose" but "the Lord said" to Abraham. In verse 22 "the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord." Abraham then continues to dialogue with the Lord in verses 23-33. With whom does Abraham speak in this chapter? God in the form of three men/angels? God accompanied by three men/angels? God and two men/angels? We find the answer in 19:1 "Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening...". Suddenly there are only two angels. This means that when "the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord" the text is saying that only two of them left and the third one was the Lord himself!
In Genesis 22:11-12, after Isaac's near-sacrifice, we see again the Angel of the Lord saying to Abraham "now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me" - the angel is speaking as if he were God. Also in verses 15-16: "Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: "By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD..."
In Genesis 32:24, we see "a man wrestling with [Jacob] until the breaking of day." Yet in verse 30 Jacob tells us: "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved."
In Judges 6:12, the Angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and engages in a dialogue with. But the angel suddenly turns out to be the Lord Himself: "Then the Lord turned to him and said…" (v. 14; see also v.16, 20-22).
We see a similar occurrence in Judges 13 when the Angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife (13:3-18). But "when the Angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and his wife, then Manoah knew that He was the Angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, ‘We shall surely die, because we have seen God!’" (Jud. 13:21-22). Again, the angel of the Lord is God Himself.
Turning to some rabbinical sources, we find confirmation of the existence of a "redeeming angel" or "angel of God" who mediated the Ten Commandments to Israel and is the Shekhinah, the divine presence, and indeed God himself:
"The Ten Commandments did not come to Israel in the simple way of writings. And the angel who gave them… he is the redeeming angel, and it is he of whom it is written 'and the angel of God went.' This angel is God, and it is He who announces the commandments to Israel, as it is written: "and God said all these things." (Rabbi Meir Bei Gabai, sefer Avodat Kodesh)
"'And the angel of God went' this angel is the house of judgment of the Holy One, blessed be He… this angel is the Shekhinah and is called ‘the angel prince of the world’ because the guidance of the world is carried out by him. (Rabbi Menahem of Rekanati, "BiShlach" portion, Ex 14:19)
The prophet Malachi also mentions the Angel of the Lord. Rabbi David Kimchi, commenting on this passage, tells us that this Angel is "the Lord" and "the Messiah-King."
"Behold, I send My messenger [מלאך - angel], and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger [angel] of the covenant, in whom you delight… (Mal 3:1)
"The Lord, He is the Messiah-King, and He is the Angel of the Covenant." (Rabbi David Kimchi on Mal 3:1)
The Angel Metatron
In the article on the Trinity, we have seen that there are several passages in the OT which indicate that the One God reveals Himself as a communion of (three) persons. The medieval Zohar and other mystical writers speak even more explicitly of this "mystery of three" in the godhead, where the "Middle Spirit" is the eternal Word of God who already existed before creation, the Angel of God and mediator between heaven and earth called "Metatron," who emanated from God - yet is none other than YHWH Himself!
"The middle pillar is 'Metatron.'" (Zohar, vol. 3, p. 227)
"The great and exalted name speaks to Moses and tells him to come up to YHWH, He is Metatron, sometimes called by the name YHWH." (Rabbi Menahem of Rekanati, p. 145)
"Who is the way to the tree of life? It is Metatron… Metatron is called "the Angel of God"… every petition and plea brought before the King must go through Metatron… Metatron is the emissary responsible for everything that is sent from heaven to this world, or from this world to heaven…" (Tamtsit haZohar, vol. 2, Ex., col. 51)
The garment of El Shaddai is Metatron. (Zohar, vol. 3, p. 231)
"There is a man who is angel and Metatron. He is a man in the image of the Holy One, blessed be He. And He is the emanation from Him, for He is YHWH, and about Him it cannot be said that He was created, formed, or made, but that He emanated from God." (Tikunei haZohar, chap. 67, p. 130)
The Son of God
The kabbalists called the second sphere by the name 'Metatron,' who is the name down below of the Son of YHWH. (Sefer Yetsirah, p. 85). This reminds us Psalm 2, which explicitly speaks of God's Son who is the Lord's "Anointed One" or Messiah:
Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Messiah... I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession..." Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Ps 2:7-9, 12)
As seen in the article on the Messiah in the Tanakh, the midrash, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and the Talmud (Sukka 52a) associate this "Son" with the Messiah:
"Serve the Lord, about the Lord… and kiss the Son, about the Messiah." (Ibn Ezra on Ps 2)
The Zohar even appends to the description of the Son ("bar") a trinitarian statement mentioning the Holy One, His Son, and the Divine Presence (the Shekhinah):
"You are the good shepherd; of you it is said, 'Kiss the Son.' You are great here below, the teacher of Israel, the Lord of the serving angels, the son of the Most High, the son of the Holy One, blessed is He, and his Shekhinah." (Zohar, part III, p. 307, Amsterdam edition)
"For He is the middle pillar in the Godhead, and He is the Son of God." (Zohar, Genesis, p. 16)
God said: "Faithful shepherd! You are truly my Son, the Shekhinah. Great dignitaries and angels, kiss the Son! Rise, all of you, kiss Him and welcome Him as King and Lord!" (Zohar, vol. 3, p. 281)
A few OT passages also tell us about "Immanuel" (God is with us) - a child who will be born and will be called "mighty God" and "Everlasting Father."
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isa 7:14)
"Unto us a child is born…and His name will be called…mighty God, Everlasting Father." (Isa 9:6)
Jeremiah adds that the branch of David who will be King - the Messiah - will be called by the name of God, YHWH:
"I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: The Lord our Righteousness." (YHWH Tzidkeinu) (Jer 23:6; also Jer 33:16).
The prophet Micah and his commentator Rabbi David Qimhi tell us that the Messiah, born in Bethlehem, will be of eternal origins and therefore is El - God:
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting." (Mic 5:2)
"It will be said in the Messianic age that his 'origins are from old, from ancient time;' 'from Bethlehem' means that he will be of the house of David, because there is a long period of time between David and the Messiah-King; and he is El (God), which is how he is 'from old, from ancient times.'" (Qimhi on Mic 5:2)
In addition, God Himself, speaking through Zechariah, tells us that the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will "look on Me whom they have pierced." How can one "pierce God" - unless He were of flesh and blood?
"And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn." (Zech. 12:10, cf. Jn 19:37)
The book of Daniel reveals "one like a son of man" who reigns over the whole world and whom all people serve.
"…behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." (Dan 7:13-14)
The apocryphal book of Enoch also presents the Messiah and Son of Man as pre-existent before the creation of the world:
And at that hour that Son of Man was named In the presence of the Lord of Spirits, and his name before the Head of Days. Yea, before the sun and the signs were created, before the stars of the heaven were made, His name was named before the Lord of Spirits. He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves and not fall, and he shall be the light of the Gentiles, and the hope of those who are troubled of heart. All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him, and will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of Spirits. And for this reason hath he been chosen and hidden before Him, before the creation of the world and for evermore. (1 Enoch 48:2-6)
Finally, consider Ezekiel's terrifying vision of the glory of the Lord - appearing as a man seated on a throne:
And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around... This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. (Ezek 1:26-28)
In conclusion, we can see that the Old Testament and Jewish literature are replete with imagery where God indeed appears as man and where the Messiah is portrayed as divine Son of God. The New Testament authors and Church Fathers, therefore, did not innovate this concept but drew from an established tradition that already existed in previous Jewish sources and continued to develop in some streams of Judaism well into the Middle Ages.
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